I'd like to say that I've accomplished something with these posts about game inefficiency, rigidity and agility, but the truth is we've come to the end of the track and I have to wonder what's different. Personally, I feel vindicated on a lot of fronts. I had begun making my world with an agile design idea decades before agility was even proposed (was talking with a business manager yesterday who made the same remark with regards to his own practices). I have always felt that the game world had to be rigid, with an understanding that the rigidity had to be improved or made more flexible, if it wasn't producing a good game. And why wouldn't we want an inefficient game?
The main change for me these last two months is that I now have design industry terms to describe things that I've always thought of in fuzzy dimensions. I can now use the term and point to the book and say, "Aha, evidence." Yet on the whole I'm not looking at my world design differently and thinking about things I have to change.
It was a good idea that I began sketching out the various details of the sage tables for all the classes, even if the work wasn't actually done. That was certain a more agile method: but I took that step to feed the needs of the online campaigns and I did it before starting this long series. However, I have to point to that as the last radical step I've made in my game design.
On the whole, however, I feel this has been more of an exercise than a reaching out. I think I could review all the research, now that I'm on the other side of it, and pull these posts together into a single book; I could go off on a number of side discussions that would flesh the book out to 40-45 thousand words.
What I can't do, though I've been trying, is to figure out a way to help others with the metaphorical blank piece of paper that faces them. I've just finished the last post by saying that a better adventure is not going to make your world better. Fact is, a quickly produced, well run adventure will be as good for your players as any long-term effort would produce. Arguably, long-term efforts encourage us to lose our focus about what makes the running good. The longer we spend making an adventure, the more we become attached to the plan and the less awareness we retain for the players: remember, plans are important but collaboration is more important.
If you approach your players with an adventure that consists of four straight up fights, with treasure, a little personality for the enemy combatants and a strange terrain to give the fights some verve, you will do better than if you created twenty or thirty well-described, mostly empty rooms, carefully crafted and laid out in extraordinary detail. That's because YOU, your brain, your capacity to make something interesting, is a hundred times more complicated and involving than any lines you can draw (or manufacture out of paper and styrofoam).
An elaborate dungeon drawn with the elegance of three dimensions, figures, shading and color, to scale or upon a scale that provides aesthetic, makes an interesting artwork and that has positive influence over how your players perceive you and your world. All that effort does produce a level of awe that can work for you. But very little of that effort actually applies to a game more profoundly enhanced through the imagination. Artworks help where matters of location, proximity and player planning applies; but it doesn't turn the monster to flesh: it is your heart and your ability to emote that makes that so.
That is so unfair. We've been sold on the ideal that having the materials and then putting them together in these shapes will make a great game. We've been duped into thinking an imaginary fantasy game can be plugged together with mechanical movements: read this paragraph, wave your hands, show the players this picture, throw this die and everything else will just be wonderful.
It isn't true. And we've all known it isn't true, from the beginning, when we first began running games with a pit in our stomach and a doubt that we really knew what we were doing. But we went on doing it in the way we were told because that was all we knew. That was what everyone else was doing. And anyway, a little more often than not the players seemed to be digging it. But we knew when we started DMing that it seemed like a false front, like we were faking it, hoping eventually that the feeling of faking it would go away and we'd know what we were doing.
But it didn't. And this last six weeks has been about why. The goal is to recognize that the effectiveness of play isn't in the tools or the modules. It isn't in the dice or the clever role-playing. It isn't in backstories or rules. It's in the fundamentals of game design.
Success is in understanding, yourself, how to find a way to make the players feel that they might not succeed but that they might succeed at the same time. To find that button and then to keep hammering that button until your thumb gets raw. Everything else is just gravy. Helps you find the button and helps you hammer it a little harder ... but it won't push the button for you. And in the final analysis, you don't actually need any of it. We could play, you and I, without any dice, without character sheets or maps, in the dark, trapped in a coal mine, if we had to.